I bring ideas to life much in the same way I bring my vegetables to life: a lot of care and nurturing! If you’ve got an idea you shouldn’t rush into it.
Derek Wheat is an organic farmer currently living and working on the coast of California with his wife and two sons. Derek is now semi-retired, only working a few days a week instead of full-time. He attended the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis and then went straight to work at Brookers Organic Farms. Derek enjoyed his time at Brookers and gained a lot of hands-on experience within the agricultural industry.
Derek used his formal education and his practical experience to start Derek Wheat Organic Farms in 2002. Derek’s farm currently grows avocados and tomatoes and supplies them to local shops and supermarkets. These vegetables are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and offer a sustainable, healthy alternative to conventionally-farmed vegetables. While Derek is no longer working full-time on the farm, his two sons have taken up many of the duties he previously had and have been helping to ensure the farm’s continued success.
Where did the idea for Derek Wheat Organic Farms come from?
Well I had always been interested in agriculture since I was a kid. My parents had a large garden in our backyard where we grew tomatoes and a few other fruits and vegetables. My dad showed me how to tend to the plants and take care of them. I ended up going to college to study agriculture and only occasionally entertained the thought of starting my own farm. My first job after graduating was at Brookers Organic Farm and I saw the ins and outs of running a farm. I realized that this was something I could do so I started Derek Wheat Organic Farms.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My day-to-day before I started working less involved a lot of being outside. In the California weather, there’s really nothing more you could ask for. I would tend to the fields and ensure everything was growing properly. You’ve got to make sure everything has the nutrients it needs. The typical day also depends upon what season it is. If it’s planting season you’re going to be doing a lot of planting and if it’s harvesting season you’ll be doing a lot of harvesting. Things slow down in the winter months but there are some vegetables that can be grown year-round.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I bring ideas to life much in the same way I bring my vegetables to life: a lot of care and nurturing! If you’ve got an idea you shouldn’t rush into it. Plan it out and make sure everything is in place before you act on it. A good idea might not turn out so well if you don’t properly think it through.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Farm technology is constantly evolving. There are always new tractors, combines, and irrigation rigs coming out. I can hardly keep track of it all. I’m excited that the human work can be eliminated with machinery. After doing this for over two decades it’s clear that it takes a pretty significant toll on the human body. I like that machinery is constantly being invented that makes our crops grow better and that reduces the strain on farmers themselves.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m passionate about what I do. I love farming and being able to work outside with plants and soil. I don’t see it as a chore to go and work in the fields, I relish it. While I’m not physically able to do much of the work that I was able to do a few years ago, I still enjoy it. If your job doesn’t feel like work to you, you’ll be much more productive and happier too.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Think more. I didn’t always make good decisions as a younger fellow and would sometimes get into trouble because of this. I should have slowed down to think more about what I was doing and how my actions would influence others. That and to study more. I always had a natural affinity for plants and gardening and farming, so I didn’t always pay attention in school like I should have. Things turned out okay in the end, but I feel like I missed out on a bunch of knowledge that I could’ve gained if I had worked harder at my education.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
A formal education isn’t everything. School smarts are important but for many industries hands-on experience is just as important, if not more so. Without the hands-on experience I gained from working in my backyard garden and at Brookers Organic Farm I wouldn’t have been able to start my own farm.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether it’s a friend, family member, financial advisor, or therapist never be afraid to admit that you need a helping hand. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of those around me. My wife, Wendy, has been a huge help. I’m lucky to share this business with someone who is equally passionate about organic farming. When I was first starting and still today I ask her for help when I need it. These days, since I’ve had to limit my duties at the farm, I’ve been asking my two sons for help. They’ll be taking over my farm one day.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
The main strategy that’s worked well to grow my business has just been to stay committed to growing the best, freshest, produce around. I guess people began to pick up on this through word of mouth and things took off from there. We supply produce to grocery stores around the state and I guess word just travelled fast.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One failure I had was not properly planning for growth. When we first started we had a solid little operation, but things really took off after a year or so. The organic food craze hit the U.S. and we weren’t entirely ready for it. We were playing catch up for a year and missing out on revenue. We eventually were able to get ahead of the demand, but it took a lot of hard work and a lot of money.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
There should definitely be more tourable farms. These already exist but I think more farms should be set up specifically to allow for people to come and look at where their food comes from. There are definitely people out there who are interested in learning more about agriculture and showing their kids that food doesn’t just magically appear in grocery stores.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently purchased a new water irrigation system for the farm that has been a great investment. It wasn’t cheap but it’s much more efficient than our last one and it’s helping water to be distributed more evenly which helps the plants grow better.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Farmers Web is a great help. It’s a software that essentially helps us to better interact with our customers. It allows us to keep our buyers aware of product availability and helps us to keep track of orders and payments. There’s a large administrative component of farming that not many people realize. Farmers Web has been a huge help. It saves a ton of time and energy on our side but also for our buyers.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. It’s the book that essentially kickstarted the modern environmental movement in the 1960s. It documents the harmful effects that pesticide use can have on people, animals, and the environmental as a whole and it’s been extremely influential. Organic farming still uses some pesticides, but their use is extremely limited. After reading that book it became extremely important to me that I do as much as I can to limit human and animal exposure to these synthetic chemicals.
What is your favorite quote?
“It’s not about how bad you want it, it’s about how hard you are willing to work for it.” Not sure who said that but it couldn’t be more true.
- Think more.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Be environmentally conscious and try to think about the impact your actions have on other people and the environment.
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Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.